Flight Vol. 1-2
By Various
Published by Image Comics; $19.95-$24.95 USD

The Flight anthologies are trade paperbacks (two so far) collecting short stories by cartoonists and animators whose comics careers, in many cases, are just beginning.

There's a moment in "Dust on the Shelves" by "Bannister" in Flight Vol. 2 in which there is a palpable, joyous sense of humanity, as the cartoonist recounts how he met his wife-to-be in the comics shop they both hold dear as a landmark place in the history of their lives together. But it's only a moment -- the two Flight volumes released to date have far more style than substance, with most of the stories lighter than air and, I regret to say, not terribly memorable.

"Dust on the Shelves" is one of the big exceptions -- Bannister's story, presumably autobiography, is coloured by Corentin Jaffre and adapted into English by Dean Trippe. The gorgeous production values on display in both Flight volumes is most definitely on display in "Dust," but here works to focus your eye on the characters and their setting (the comics shop where the couple meets), and allows the reader to fully invest in the short, sweet, funny tale of how a random meeting and a shared interest can change lives for the better. Not only is "Dust" the best story in either of the two books, it's one of the best short stories I've ever read.

I wish I could say the same about many more of the offerings in the Flight anthologies. But a memory of colour is the primary thing you take away from the books: The cartoonists and colourists contributing to both volumes have a real proficiency for colour; there are undeniably gorgeous images on virtually every page. But most of the stories -- such as they are -- are pretty trinkets, cotton candy for the eyes.

In the pretentious, overblown afterword by Scott McCloud in the first volume, the noted comics scholar said:

"It's easy to see the historical significance of the Flight anthology. Many of its contributors would become giants of the comics industry..."
The conceit of McCloud's afterword was that it was written many decades in the future, after the contributors to Flight were acknowledged as masters of the comic artform. Even putting aside the contrarian hackles that idea raises, the essay is irksome because of its very premise: Flight's contributors may someday be considered master storytellers. So might, say, my nine-year old. But the evidence for either is not yet in.

To be a master storyteller, you must have stories to tell. Kirby, Eisner, Crumb, Los. Bros. Hernandez, and Dan Clowes, to name a handful of true masters off the top of my head, all had stories to tell very early in their comics-making careers. Those with a sharp critical eye could see the humanity in Jaime Hernandez's earliest sci-fi tinged melodramas, and watched with wonder as his style matured. So far in the first two Flight anthologies, there's plenty of sci-fi and fantasy on display, but not much that reaches the reader through its sense of shared experience, of the acknowledgement that these characters are representative of a life lived.

"Maiden Voyage" by Kabu Kibuishi in Vol. 1 is typical of the works found throughout both books: A boy and his talking dog work on a flying machine amid gorgeously-depicted settings, including a store, a cityscape, and a lush forest. The characters are undeniably cute, the art is absolutely fabulous. The plane rises, it crashes. Minor joke about buying a bicycle. The End. Kibuishi's "The Orange Grove" in Vol. 2 is interesting in that it is more grounded in human emotion, but the art is less lush. Somewhere in between the two stories there would be a more perfect balance of accomplished artwork and a dedication to true storytelling. If nothing else, Kibuishi is certainly one of the talents to watch from the Flight books. But unlike Scott McCloud, I am not ready to declare Kibuishi a master storyteller ready for installation to the Pantheon.

It's hard not to love books that are so obviously created with a love of craft and the hope of announcing great talent to a waiting world. It would be even harder if more of the creators involved in Flight had something to say, beyond conjuring up eye-popping beauty for ciphers to walk, run and glide through for a few pages. As it stands, both volumes serve mainly as calling cards for the individual talents, and I imagine virtually anyone involved in either volume could easily use the work on display to get more work in the animation or illustration fields.

I wonder, though, how many of them could commit to a regular series of comics or graphic novels based on what they've done in Flight. Comics is a storytelling medium, and you have to have stories to tell. Preferably stories that resonate with the reader, and remain in memory long after the book has been closed and put up on the shelf. As a comics anthology, Flight needs much more of that, the realization that beautiful artwork and an accomplished application of colour are only tools in the comics storyteller's repertoire, not a praiseworthy end unto themselves. Grade: 3.5/5

-- Alan David Doane

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